by Amanda K. Hirsch
Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun and David Roux. (Photo by Heratch Ekmekjian)
The Institute for Experiential AI launch event titled, Discover Experiential AI, began with a Fireside Chat between Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun and David Roux, managing partner at BayPine. In early 2020, Northeastern partnered with David Roux and his wife Barbara to launch the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine.
When asked about the motivation for his focus on AI for the Roux Institute, Roux replied that “American education is fundamentally underinvested in the future of technology” and that AI technology “provides a foundation for both digital engineering and the next generation of life sciences which is increasingly computational.” He also called out the uneven balance between talent broadly distributed across the country and opportunity highly concentrated in a handful of urban centers.
“We wanted to demonstrate that if you make a major investment in the next generation of training, for people to really take those abilities and turn it into useful talent, companies which are increasingly highly distributed in how they operate can go anywhere for that talent,” said Roux.
President Aoun saw the collaboration between Roux and the university as an opportunity to create impact and shift the higher education model to one that gives enterprises and companies a seat at the table from the start. Together, they could shape a journey that addresses real-world talent and business needs. This model is the core basis and the beauty of Experiential AI.
Part of what drew David Roux to Northeastern University was the college’s unique insight that the customer is not the learner. The customer is the person who hires the learner.
“Understanding that flip means you think completely differently about making the best product possible,” said Roux. “The faculty is there to make [learners] as good as they can be, which means, not just teaching them the curriculum that you think that’s important but more importantly, teaching them the curriculum that the ultimate customer thinks is important.”
Having business, corporation, government, and nonprofit partners convey what they will need two to three years down the road enables Northeastern, the Roux Institute, and the Institute for Experiential AI to teach and provide real-world experiences for those learners.
“Industry now is generating research that is equal, and in some domains, superior to, what is happening in higher education,” said President Aoun. “So, education needs industry in the same way that industry needs education.”
The beauty of the Institute for Experiential AI and the Roux model resides within education and industry working together, which Aoun pointed out, requires a change in the academic mindset, practices, and a certain level of humility.
Traditionally, higher education ranks fundamental research above applied. But when working with partners, it becomes clear that real-world applications often force us to rethink fundamental premises, which is exactly what the Institute for Experiential AI is doing.
President Aoun went on to say that he hopes to foster an ecosystem of entrepreneurship that will launch companies that employ Northeastern’s students, who then become the next generation of entrepreneurs.
One of the challenges David Roux said that we’re facing when it comes to the societal adoption of AI is that not nearly enough people understand how AI works.
“The synonym for AI, I would say, is computer science that no one understands,” said Roux, even for those relatively versed in that area. The benefit of industry partnerships is that it provides very large data sets for testing and applying algorithms that are not available in academia alone.
“You need people in the loop at design time, at testing time, and at governance and oversight time,” said Roux. This type of human-in-the-loop AI is what sets the Institute for Experiential AI apart from other institutes.
For more from President Aoun and David Roux’s Fireside Chat or any of the other Discover Experiential AI speakers and panelists, you can watch the entire replay of the day’s festivities. To find out how the Institute for Experiential AI can help you achieve your AI goals, connect with us.